I've been thinking about upgrading a conference room at the church where I work lately. It's been on my mind for quite some time now. This room is busy nearly every day and night of the week. It hosts everything from AA meetings to orientations to bible studies and conferences. It's not huge, in fact it's one of the smaller rooms available in our building, but as much as the big room, the steeple, or the sign out front, it's the face of our church to a lot of people.
Having said that I wish our face didn't look like a pair of rat fur covered boxes from the mid 1980s on shelves and a Carvin (shudder) mixer that almost no one can operate. The built in system is so inadequate that there's a media cart permanently stationed in there so that people coming in have a prayer of being able to do something.
I'd like to make the room as up to date as possible but I also want to make it as user friendly as possible. Having been in a lot of schools and churches with rooms like this, I've seen a lot of media cabinets that even as a twenty year veteran of the industry I had a hard time getting going. Usually a janitor had to come along and tell me which button to press to get it out of presentation mode or some such thing.
So how do I come up with a media cabinet that has lav and hand held mics, a DVD player and inputs for presentation computers and that can also handle all the wildly differing volume levels without being inaudible or degrading into catastrophic feedback? That's been stumping me for quite a while now.
We don't exist to promote products and we don't get paid by any manufacturers so I can pretty much say what I want here. (Full disclosure: we are an Amazon affiliate but that's just so we have an easy way to put pictures of gear on the blog without having to provide citation, we don't make any money from that either.) The box I have in mind is from Ashly. There are others like it on the market but they're a local company for us and I know some of their crew personally so that's why they're currently in the lead.
When our main system processor blew up we went with one of their products, mostly because it would handle all the I/O we needed in a single box, the ne24.24.m. After we got it I fell in love with the features. Those same features can be found in their Pema amps, which are up to eight channels and even the smaller two and four channel versions have an 8x8 matrix on board. That's two lavs, to hand helds, DVD and presentation computer, all in two rack spaces and it'll drive the speakers too.
The thing that really sold me on it is that with all the processing on board it's almost as good at mixing as the interns. Built in compression and limiting can take care of the loud bits, and the leveling section will raise any low inputs to try and hit a target level. By putting a room mic on one of the inputs the system can gauge the level of room noise and adjust the volume accordingly. Internal routing is a snap, as well as EQ, delay compensation, ducking and just about anything else you can think of.
Sealing the deal is the ability to add wall plates to allow for switching presets and controlling zone volumes. The processor/amp and wireless receivers can be located out of harm's way. The playback devices, inputs and wireless mics can live in a convenient lock box within easy reach and we're done for the day. Tweaking can be done through a laptop. What's nice about that is that I don't have to be in the room or even in the building to trouble shoot or make adjustments.
It's nice to know that there are affordable options that can effectively do away with impenetrable media towers. Gone are the days of line mixers, distribution amps, and other devices that are well intentioned in the planning stages but often turn out to be inadequate, or are easily messed up by inexperienced or unqualified users. A good tech can set up a room and leave it to the users to have successful meeting after successful meeting with ease.